Medline clerk rescues refugees from burning bus

Monday, October 31, 2005

DALLAS - For Medline shipping clerk Irma Campanella, the horror began shortly after 6 a.m. on Sept. 23.
Like most Fridays, she and her husband got up early so they could go to breakfast together before work. About 10 miles into their trip to the Waffle House, traffic, thick with refugees fleeing Hurricane Rita, slowed to a crawl. Hoping to find a faster route, Campanella, 48, and her husband took the next exit they could.
That's when they saw a chartered bus with one of its wheels on fire parked on the shoulder.
"We said, 'I wonder if they know it is on fire,'" Campanella told HME News last month. "No one was getting out or doing anything. I called 911, and we were yelling at them to get out of the bus.
"But it was like they didn't hear us. I jumped on the bus and couldn't say anything at first."
The bus was full of nursing home patients. One elderly patient lay on the floor. The others just stared at Campanella and her husband, Vic, 52.
"They were just looking at us," she said. "That's what was so shocking."
In the dark, the couple began to remove people from the bus. Vic hauled them to the door, and from there Irma escorted them a safe distance away.
At some point, the bus exploded and filled with black smoke. Irma and Vic managed to escape. A few minutes later, the bus exploded again. This time flames engulfed it. Twenty-three people died in the fire, which authorities blamed on faulty breaks that got hot, failed and then ignited the fire that caused the explosion.
Once rescue workers arrived, Vic and Irma got in their car and left. There was nothing more for them to do. "That is when I started crying," Irma said. "I said, 'Did you get everyone off?' and he said, 'No.'"